I have often heard about the card game Faro. But never looked closely at the game, or how it’s played. I knew it was tied into the Wild West though.
Wildly popular in North America during the 1800s, Faro was eventually overtaken by poker as the preferred card game of gamblers in the early 1900s.
Faro, Pharaoh, Pharao, or Farobank is a late 17th-century French gambling card game. It is descended from Basset, and belongs to the Lansquenet and Monte Bank family of games due to the use of a banker and several players. Winning or losing occurs when cards turned up by the banker match those already exposed.
It is not a direct relative of poker, but Faro was often just as popular, due to its fast action, easy-to-learn rules, and better odds than most games of chance. The game of Faro is played with only one deck of cards and admits any number of players.
A game of faro was often called a “faro bank”. It was played with an entire deck of playing cards. One person was designated the “banker” and an indeterminate number of players, known as “punters”, could be admitted. Chips (called “checks”) were purchased by the punter from the banker (or house) from which the game originated. Bet values and limits were set by the house. Usual check values were 50 cents to $10 each.
The faro table was typically oval, covered with green baize, and had a cutout for the banker. A board was placed on top of the table with one suit of cards (traditionally spades) pasted to it in numerical order, representing a standardized betting “layout”. Each player laid his stake on one of the 13 cards on the layout. Players could place multiple bets and could bet on multiple cards simultaneously by placing their bet between cards or on specific card edges. A player could reverse the intent of his bet by placing a hexagonal (6-sided) token called a “copper” on it. Some histories said a penny was sometimes used in place of a copper. This was known as “coppering” the bet, and reversed the meaning of the win/loss piles for that particular bet. Players also had the choice of betting on the “high card” bar located at the top of the layout.
In the HBO Deadwood (TV Series), Character Al Swearengen mentions Faro is played in his Gem Saloon, rather than poker. The game is referred to frequently throughout the series.
The 19th-century dentist and gambler John “Doc” Holliday dealt faro in the Bird Cage Theater as an additional source of income while living in Tombstone, Arizona.